2003 BMW Rockster

BMW Rocks My World.

story by Jason Roberts, Photograph by MO Staff, Created Jul. 11, 2003
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To me, BMW motorcycles have always seemed like old-fart bikes,   kinda fuddy-duddy, boring, something my grandfather would ride (actually, since he just bought a new Porsche for his 91st birthday, ol' gramps could hardly be considered "boring"...but you get the drift). Doggedly pursuing their own unique path to motorcycling Nirvana via their traditional opposed-twin and lay-down four cylinder powerplants, the venerable German marque has long been passed by other manufacturers in the rush for the New and Improved, concentrating instead on refinement of existing designs, which is prolly why they seem so, err, fuddy-duddy. Even their sportiest offerings, such as the R1100S, are hardly seen in the trendy sportbike circles and hangin' at the usual rider roadhouses. Neither hip nor cool.

The advent of the "naked" bike, and to some extent, the related Streetfighter and freestyle "Stunt Boyz" scene has captured the attention of Japan and Euro moto-manufacturers in a big way. Witness the popularity of Kawasaki's Z1000, Honda's 919, Aprilia's Tuono, KTM's Duke, etc etc.

While faired sportbikes aren't going out of style quite yet, nekkid machines are the hot ticket for that all-important young, up and coming marketing demographic.

Looks a lot like nothing we've ever seen...  
Busy beemer boxer in basic black, ugly, eh?
According to JR, the Rockster is a lil' slice o' "badass" heaven!
It's never too early for Oktoberfest!
"King Jason" Roberts about to drag some cylinder, or so he'd have you believe.
Are you getting "R1150R" out of this? Didn't think so.
The dynojet says...

Thus, BMW jumps on the bandwagon and brings us the R1150R Rockster, based on the plainer 1150R. Naked, with the obligatory geeky, assymetrical headlight arrangement (looks like a squinting Triumph Speed Triple wearing a funny hat) lifted from the dual-sporty GS model, the Rockster cuts a fairly sinister profile with its blacked-out engine and orange tiger stripe graphics. Think about that for a sec: a sinister BMW.When has any Beemer been sinister?

BMW bikes are usually as threatening as a glass of milk. The Rockster also boasts an unusually low $10,790 tab for the non-ABS model, which of course makes it all the more appealing and accessible to the younger crowd.

The funky headlight/instrument nacelle and lack of a fairing emphasizes the front Telelever suspension, which is another geek-chic touch; that big ol' spring in there looks tech-y and purposeful.

  From the rear, the boxer engine's cylinders protrude from each side, emphasizing the unique appearance of the motor more than any Beemer in the lineup. Up top, the oil coolers mounted to scoops on the sides of the tank gives it a wide, slightly awkward look. Altogether, though, the whole package is fuggin' cool, and numerous thumbs-up and "Nice bike!" comments from young, spikey-haired types prove it. (The "R1150R" logo on the tank, however, prompted some confusion, as it looks like it spells "RUSOR"...people asked me "What's a RUSOR?" I dunno how many times....).  

BMW claims 85 horses and 73 foot-pounds of torque for the 1130cc, eight-valve opposed twin. The Rockster is the first BMW boxer twin to incorporate a dual sparkplug head, which they claim reduces fuel consumption and emissions by giving more uniform combustion. While perfectly adequate for most riding, I was wishing for a bit more torque down low and mid-range, which after all is where Streetfighter-type motorcycles are supposed to excel. This makes the Rockster a bear to wheelie unless it's caned good and hard, a distinct disadvantage amongst the nekkid crowd. Still, a good handful will get you moving quick, but it's a far cry from the arm-yanking stonk of, say, the Buell XB9S or Aprilia Tuono.

Hit the starter and a Volkswagenesque whirr precedes the polite rustling typical of Beemer twins; not very baaad, tsk tsk. An integrated catalytic converter-equipped pipe quashes most exhaust noise, leaving only the engine's hollow, VFR-like intake drone to tickle your earlobes. Sorry,not badass enough. C'mon, BMW -- turn up the volume a bit, bitte.

And what's up with the giant, funky emissions canister mounted so conspicuously on the right-rear side, anyway? Looks like an aerosol can spray-painted flat black...take off five points for poor taste. I suppose stealthy (yet environmentally-conscious) hooligans who don't wanna remove the can could always disguise it as a nitrous bottle, though...

The boxer twin's odd, rightwards-torquing effect when the throttle is blipped is noticeable but not annoying. However, this little right-tweak IS annoying when upshifting during hard acceleration, and makes smooth cog-swaps quite difficult. This is endemic to the boxer twin, but all the same I prefer the more neutral feel of a Four or Vtwin. The stiff, box-O'-rocks gearbox that BMW never seems to fix doesn't help much either. While the Rockster also buzzes a bit at speed, it isn't unpleasant until you get above 6000 rpm.

A low center of gravity, taut suspension, and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport skins makes the Rockster a real hoot in the curves. It's surprisingly agile in traffic as well, despite its near-500lb heft, although the wide motocross-style bars obligatory on Streetfighter-style bikes means that you'll be donking some car mirrors if and when you split lanes in traffic. I'd advise practicing the "I'm sorry!" wave but then again, if you're the badass/hooligan type who are attracted to nekkid machines, you probably wouldn't do that...would you?  

The wide bars are also the main reason the Rockster is an around-town-only type of bike. Under 60mph, the bars give great feel and leverage and the riding position - neutral, slightly forward - is comfy enough (kudos to the Rockster's tight but well-formed seat); however, after about 45 minutes at 75+ on the freeway, the splayed-out position dictated by the bars becomes a battle between rider and wind, as you struggle to maintain grip against the blast. I can't see riding this sucka more than a couple hundred miles in one session, which is ironic considering BMW's "I ride for days and shower in the rain yaddayadda" ad campaign.

An optional ABS (which adds $2200 to the tab...yikes!) is a debatable contribution to the already strong, progressive EVO binders, and though I never grabbed hard enough to activate the antilock system, its presence didn't detract from the servo-assisted binders' solid feedback and decent whoa-power. The heated handgrips are nice, but of course real hardcore badasses would just scoff at such creampuff stuff. When I flicked on the heater (only two settings: Toasty and Grill) during a late-night run and actually enjoyed the feeling of warm fingers, I sadly realized I wasn't a real hardcore badass. Honda should put these on Gold Wings, fer chrissakes!

And then there's the traditional, bizarro BMW switchgear, with left and right pedal switches for the turn signals on the respective sides of the bar a la Harley Davidson, which must be cancelled by pressing another pedal switch on the right bar. Riders have been bitching about this arrangement for years, so I guess BMW isn't gonna change them anytime soon, but DAMN they're a pain in the ass until you get used to them. I kept hitting the left signal switch instead of the horn, and vice-versa, even after a couple hundred miles....

For those who always wanted to be married by a David Hasselhoff impersonator... So then, is the BMW Rockster sufficiently cool and hip to hang with the other nekkid boyz, or is the Emperor unaware he's unclothed? Is it a Badass, or a closet Yuppie in Black? Your call, but lemme just say this: My ultimate compliment for test bikes here at MO is, would I spend my own money on one? The Rockster gets a big YES on that one. Despite my non-badass status, I still find the bike very appealing on many levels, despite its shortcomings on the longer rides. If you're looking for something that looks mean on the surface (BMW calls it "predatory") but has civilized manners and the heart of a pussycat, there's a Rockster out there with your name on it.

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